Honoring your loved ones

This past weekend I attended my beautiful nephew’s baby naming ceremony with my family. In the Jewish tradition, it is common to gather friends and family to welcome a new member of the tribe, say a blessing over him and explain the meaning behind his English and Hebrew name. My sister and brother-in-law carefully chose a name to represent various people they love who have passed on. These people embodied love, acceptance, humor, good values and unique personalities. By bestowing a name that evokes these dear souls, my nephew is, in essence, carrying on their beloved qualities. It’s a very beautiful tradition and I was so happy to witness the ceremony.

mazeltov

Names can honor your past and so can things. When I work with organizing clients I often ask them to really consider if their sentimental items are truly honoring their deceased loved ones. Is a torn up old briefcase shining the best light on a father’s memory? If your mother hated her job but you’re keeping her office accessories, does that contribute positive energy to your own home? Probably not. When decluttering and organizing on your own, you can ask yourself if your relative or significant other would want to be remembered by this inanimate object that you’re holding onto or if they would prefer to be remembered in another way.

Photo Album

This is a great article about saving memories without saving the actual item.

  • You can save one or two items from a specific time period without saving every single thing.
  • You can take photos of the items.
  • You can be creative and turn an item into something else. Like this t-shirt quilt idea.

Be kind and remember those whom you love but be kind to yourself and your home as well.

With love, light and less clutter…

Jeni

Shop without buying

Now that we’re fully entrenched in the insanity that is the holiday shopping season, it’s very easy to get caught up in all the sales, the spending and the “holiday spirit” which usually amounts to an overextended budget. Often, when we get wrapped up in a frenzy mentality, we buy things that we don’t need, don’t have room for and can’t genuinely afford. But we don’t have to deny ourselves either if we think creatively.

 

The subject line of this post makes it sound like I’m advocating shoplifting. No, what I’m going to talk about is shopping at home. Last week, my dear friend Jackson came over and after catching up on our life stories: jobs, relationships, food allergies, I put him to work. I have been wanting a headboard for my bed ever since I moved into my new apartment last May. Headboards are not cheap and, like everyone else, I’m in money-saving mode right now. I felt stuck knowing that the West Elm reclaimed wood bed was way out of my budget. But Jackson is extremely savvy and we started brainstorming. I had lugged a wicker folding screen with me from my old place and Jackson and I began eyeing it, propping it up, guessing how to mount it to the wall. After a few minutes, we had pushed the screen behind the bed and it now stands proudly as my “headboard”. It works, I love how it looks and, best of all, I didn’t spend a single new penny on it.

 

We also talked art and I pulled out two prints from Etsy that had been waiting in my art file that would fit perfectly on either side of my newly revamped bed. I’m getting them framed this weekend. After Jackson left I got excited and went online seeing what else I could add to my new space. I found a gorgeous print on 20×200 and added it to the shopping cart. Whoo-hoo, we’re in it now! Simply dropping that item in my virtual shopping cart got me excited.

 

Then I started thinking. What was my goal to begin with? My goal was to save money but to also have a gorgeous, warm bedroom. I achieved that (this is a re-enactment of my dream bedroom, not my actual bedroom).Why was I about to spend $50 on a print (plus shipping and handling and then framing costs, too) when I have two awesome pieces that I am planning on hanging up within a week? I deleted the item and went to bed happy in my cozy new space.

 

What can you do this week to avoid a spending moment when you don’t want to?

 

With love, light and less clutter,

Jeni

Listen to Oprah

When The Oprah Winfrey Show was on the air in syndication (RIP 4pm Oprah show!), I watched with rapt attention. Even though her some of her cockamamie ideas (piercing your ears in front of millions?) rubbed me the wrong way, I remained loyal and true blue to Ms. Winfrey. Her many, many pieces of advice have stuck with me and I’ll discuss one of my favorites here today. Pull up a chair. No, not that one, the other one.

 

Oprah has said on more than one occasion to “use the good bath stuff”. She means this both literally and figuratively. On the literal end, she means that the delicious-smelling and invigorating Origins ginger scrub that my friend Ina gave me should be enjoyed in the shower like, TODAY. It’s a yummy product and I work hard all week long so g-damn it, I deserve a little boost in the morning. Same goes with that lavender oil I’ve been shoving to the back of my shower caddy, waiting for an appropriate time to enjoy it. Opes is saying that today is the day! You deserve it today! Use it PRONTO! OK, Oprah, stop yelling, jeez. Have a cookie.

 

Figuratively speaking, Oprah was onto something bigger. This idea that we hold onto the Good Stuff for guests, for the day when we get a promotion, for our birthday, for an anniversary, for Bastille Day, it’s hogwash (shower pun intended)! We stockpile fancy items and tuck them in our closets, hide them in the back of our drawers, cloister them away so we aren’t tempted to use them because who are we to enjoy something so lavish on any ordinary day? The side effect of this thinking is damaging in two ways.

  1. Today is not ordinary. Today is just as important as the day you graduated from cooking school or the day you escaped from Juvee. Today is important because you’re living it to its fullest and you’re making a difference in someone’s life. When you treat each day with value, you push yourself past your fears and start to “live big”, as my friend Simone recently declared.
  2. When you cram all your lovely bath products, your fancy dark chocolate and your plush towels out of your line of vision, you forget they even exist. It’s like “look but don’t touch” for adults. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve helped who reached into a rarely-used drawer and pulled out a dusty, once-sexy smelling candle or a dented box filled with stale Godivas. If you wait to use the items you love, the items you love might crumple up and die. The client holds the item, inspects it and finally says, “I was saving this, I wondered where it went!” Exactly.

What are you waiting for? Tell me about one fantastic item at home that you’ll use this week as a treat to yourself just for being you!

 

With love, light and less clutter,

Jeni

What’s your bag, man?

“What’s another thing I can do every day to get organized besides that genius mail trick you suggested?” Barack Obama asked me during one of our weekly pick-up games.

 

 

 Well, I’m so glad you asked, Barry! There are a ton of things you can do on a daily or weekly basis that can help you to get and stay organized. An easy one that someone on your tight schedule can handle smoothly is emptying out your man purse at the end of the day. I don’t know about you but on a typical day my purse gets jammed to the gills with tissues, receipts, loose change, gum wrappers, Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup wrappers, Twinkies wrappers, matchbox cars, ticket stubs from the opera, balls of twine, you know, the usual. I’m sure Michelle has better things to do, like help all those obese kids, than to loot through your satchel, Mr. Messy!

 

Here’s how I break it down…when I get home from a long day, right after I have my nightly hoola hoop session but before I read my plants a bedtime story, I bring my purse to the kitchen table and go through each item.

  • First, I throw out all the trash: tissues, wrappers, etc.
  • Next, I stack up the receipts to be filed. I onlykeep them if they actually need to be filed for tax purposes.
    • I tuck the receipts into their appropriate file folders in my office after I’ve completely gone through my bag.
  • Then I deposit my change into my change jar. This is the change you were talking about, B.O.!
  • Finally, I open up my daily planner and check off that day’s to-do list and pop it back into my purse.  
  • If I’m really feeling all super awesome, I’ll vaccum out the interior of my bag with my Dust Buster.

 

What’s the benefit of this daily (or twice weekly if we’re being realistic) ritual? The benefit is the large sense of relief you’ll feel when you reach into your bag the very next day and find exactly what you’re looking for at exactly the right time. We all know how frustrating it is to be running for the subway, searching for a metrocard (it should be in the same spot in your wallet every time) only to tear apart your bag and come up with a wad of Starbucks napkins to see the F train sail right by. Half the battle of an organized purse is buying one that has enough interior pockets in the first place. A lot of sensible tote bags don’t offer many interior pockets so create your own compartments with mini bags and designate duties for each pouch. One pouch could be for receipts, one pouch could be for mints and gum, one pouch could be for First Aid supplies, etc…

 

 

 

 

How do you make your bag work for you?

 

With love, light and less clutter,

Jeni

Rent or Own?

Do you rent or own your apartment? No, I’m not a pushy, thirty-something woman grilling my prey on a first date. I’m asking you this question because it dictates what we can and can’t do to your closets. 50% of my clients own their homes and 50% rent. In NYC it’s very common to rent an apartment for a year to five years and then duck out. Since there is going to be a walk-through from your landlord at the end of your tenancy, you’ll have to maintain your home in the manner in which it was rented to you. That’s why most people don’t go hog wild installing expensive and fancy closet solutions that will only get bequeathed to the next tenants with zero repayment to you. Hell, your building might even charge you for “disrupting the design of the original closet.” Curses!

 

This is where my favorite product comes in. I’m not a big promoter of pricy supplies from the Container Store but their Elfa systems are flat-out dreamy. Elfa can work in an office, bathroom, kitchen or closets. I’m a real fan of this drawer system because it can fit neatly into your closet to make use of the space under hanging coats or sweaters. When you move to a new apartment, it easily comes with you! Genius! What do I keep in my drawers? That’s private!! No, I don’t have the blessing of owning a linen closet so I store folded towels in my Elfa. I also designate one drawer for gym clothes. Another drawer, since this Elfa system resides in my coat closet, is for scarves and umbrellas. The possibilities are endless when it comes to this type of storage. Kid clothes, art supplies, food pantry, shoes, sporting equipment…Plus, this thing is a snap to put together, just make sure you have all the parts you need when you get to the register.

 

What would you store in your Elfa system?

 

With love, light and less clutter,

Jeni

Control Paste

Tonight, after a quick snip from my fabulous hair stylist Kevin (hey Kev!), I browsed the boutique to pick up a new container of my finishing product since you can only purchase it at their salon. Quite fittingly, considering my personality, the only product I deem worthy enough to touch my coif is called Control Paste. I was disappointed to learn that they were fresh out of stock. I proceeded to sniff and test each of their other similar products. Their pomade was too shiny and slick. No, I’m not a greaser. Their defining whip was too light. I need more hold! I had to face it, the Control Paste was just right! This brownielocks made the right decision and didn’t buy any product at all!

 

So friends, this turns out to be more than just a beautiful story about hair. This tale relates to clutter.  By this time in my life, at the ripe age of 22 (cough) I know what works perfectly well for my hair. If I were to cave and buy something that didn’t quite give me the desired results, I’d keep it because it was expensive and then I’d fume every time I opened up the medicine cabinet and saw it glaring at me with a smug look on its face. I’d refuse to use it out of principle, wouldn’t dare throw it out just to spite Aveda (my reasoning is not always air tight). Besides creating mental havoc on my morning routine, my medicine cabinet is quite small so where would I even put this below-average purchase?

 

These are all split-second thoughts you should process before buying anything new. Clothing, food, housewares, anything that you bring into your home needs to have a purpose and a defined result. Does the new clothing make you look and feel your best? Would you be happy to wear it as soon as tomorrow? Does your food promote health or feed a craving? Does your new set of towels have a place to live in your linen closet? Will you be discarding your old set of towels?

 

So have a chat with yourself (in your head, not out loud) before purchasing something that you might have second doubts about later on. Of course we all have to take risks with our purchases once in a while but hopefully your risks will reap a reward and not a bum mood.

 

With love, light and less clutter,

Jeni

Menu Madness

We all know that nothing is free in New York City. Nothing is free except for MENUS! Yay! If you didn’t get 19 menus shoved under your front door last night, don’t worry because there will be at least 8 more piled on top of your Beef Lo Mein when your Chinese food delivery gets dropped off tonight. Maybe they’re doing their civic duty by personally keeping the paper business in full swing but they’re also keeping you neck-high in unnecessary clutter (which is redundant).  Try telling them on the phone to leave the menu out of your order and if they neglect your wishes, simply recycle the menu as soon as you get your greasy mitts on your to-go bag.

Drawer space is at a minimum in most kitchens so the less paper the better. I used to have a big clear folder where I kept all my menus as if it were a photo album and I could reminisce on each foldable delight. Food is not love! How many times have I heard that today? So chuck the menus and instead, visit one of many online options and bookmark your favorite spots. My personal fave is menupages. They have reviews, hours of operation and, of course, menus.

Now go treat yourself to an eggroll and enjoy your meal!

Your boyfriend is so not a hoarder

“I’m giving your card to my boyfriend, he is such a hoarder,” a woman with flowing blonde hair said to me at a party.

Here’s the thing, Flaxen Locks, your boyfriend is probably 99.9% so not a hoarder. I’ve never met this gentleman, he very may well be a hoarder but people bandy about the word “hoarder” like a badminton birdie and it’s very often not a justified label. Questions: Does your boyfriend stock dirty dishes under his pillow? Does your boyfriend have books piled on his windowsills to block out the sunlight and create a blockage to the emergency exit? Does your boyfriend receive frantic calls from the FDNY looking to shut him down? These are all extreme questions because hoarding is just that, extreme.  

I’ve been a professional organizer for eight and a half years now and I’ve developed pointed questions for weeding out hoarders. In the beginning of my organizing career I was just so excited to obtain a new client that I’d show up to their apartment no questions asked. The worst result of this poor planning was a visit out to Brooklyn to meet a client who shared her apartment with a roommate. As she showed me the kitchen, the bathroom and the shared living space, I thought, “This isn’t bad at all.” But wait for it, friends. She pried open her bedroom door and we had to literally step up onto a stage of clutter. There was about 2 feet worth of papers, books, magazines, clothing and other stuff that escaped my crime-scene eyes. All I could see was the top layer of crust, there was subterranean underbelly for sure. If I were less aware I would have probably dug right in to try to save this woman from her horrible predicament. Instead, I sucked it up and said, “I would hate to waste either of our afternoons, I don’t think I’m qualified to help you. Please go to www.napo.net to search for an organizer that specializes in hoarding.” We were both a little embarrassed as she found me through a friend of a friend but I knew we’d both end up frustrated and defeated if I stayed and attempted to dig in. There are amazingly talented organizers out there who have the skill set to help hoarders and I am not one of them (know your strengths, people).

So here are are the questions I now ask potential clients on the phone when I smell even a waft of hoarder in their voice:

  1. Are there paths running through each room with clutter on either side?
  2. Are you able to sleep in your bed without obstructions?
  3. Would you consider your home to be a safety hazard?
  4. Are your pets able to roam freely throughout your home?
  5. Is each room functioning, even on a base level?
Hoarding is no laughing matter and the people who suffer from this affliction are in serious pain. I do not make light of their situation and I also know that misdiagnosing them can lead to a lot of upset from both the client and the professional. Do you think you suffer from hoarding? Do you think a loved one does? Apply the above questions to your living situation and if you’re really concerned/curious, let Oprah grill you.
With love, light and less clutter,
Jeni

Who are you?

Who are you? I mean, who are you today in the year 2011? I’m not trying to psychoanalyze you, I’m trying to help you reduce your clutter. “But what does having a clear knowledge of my identity have to do with papers and clothing and piles of stuff everywhere?” you ask as you bite into a delicious Boston cream donut. A lot, actually. Here, I’ll go first. I no longer play the violin. I played the violin in the 5th grade and it was awesome. OK, that’s a stretch, it was terrible and I hated it but the public demanded to hear my genius melodies! But that’s not who I am today at age 24 (cough) in the year 2011. What if I held onto that identity and insisted that I was still a prodigy violinist (which is a blatant lie)? I’d be surrounded by all the accessories that accompany my old identity: sheet music, violins, trophies from my award-winning tours through Long Island’s elementary schools. I wouldn’t have room for the current, true incarnation of Jeni Aron, professional organizer and owner of Clutter Cowgirl. My daily routine would involve digging around for my gym shoes underneath piles of letters from Yo-Yo Ma begging, pleading to be my special guest at some charity event. The next day I’d be searching for my gratitude journal amongst restrung bows and resin cubes. The point is, once you know and accept who you are in the present, you can begin to eliminate belongings that do not help you to excel as your current self. 
I had a client, let’s call her Busy Mom. Busy Mom used to be a hot shot in the advertising world. She ran to meetings, grabbed new clients before anyone else and kicked ass at her company. Today, Busy Mom has a kid and her days of chasing down key accounts are ten years in the past. But Busy Mom still owns at least fifteen pairs of Advertising World shoes which are jamming up her already cramped NYC closet. Fifteen pairs of old, worn out shoes that, despite their value in the past, do not serve her today as an amazing mom who goes to bat for her special-needs pre-teen. Busy Mom is holding on to the idea that she will return to her old life and wear her old shoes to kick old ass. I don’t poo-poo her dreams of returning to her old career. I do, however, doubt she’ll make an effective impression ten years later with rotted out shoes that went out of style at least a decade ago. Busy Mom is a different person and her old self made different decisions in a different point in style time. Without getting all Dr. Drew on her, I pointed out that if she does make a shift and does go back to her career, doesn’t she deserve an updated, confident wardrobe that will help her much more than these depressing Easy Spirits? Thankfully Busy Mom saw the light (after multiple sessions of denial and avoidance) and chucked all but one pair of her old shoes. She held onto the one pair as a reminder of what not to buy when going shopping. Case closed.
What old identity are you still holding onto? How does this affect your space and your day-to-day activities at home? Discuss!
With love, light and less clutter,
Jeni
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